Air traffic is growing globally at an annual rate of roughly four per cent. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) which represents airlines estimates that the number of passengers is growing by 2.5 per cent in Europe and by 4.7 per cent in Asia. At Helsinki Airport, growth was 7.9 per cent during the first half of the year, and the rate of growth has only accelerated in the third quarter.
We are on the crest of a wave. Last year, Helsinki Airport had a total of 17.2 million passengers, and the number of passengers in 2017 is expected to exceed 18.5 million. Large part of this growth is attributable to international traffic: passengers are travelling to Finland, from Finland and via Finland. However, demand for domestic air traffic has remained stable or even decreased.
At the beginning of the year, the number of passengers on Asian routes increased by nearly 13 per cent. The driver of transit travel is Finnair with its new A350 aircraft, as it attracts passengers with its functional Asian concept. Japan Airlines, a Oneworld partner, also contributes to growth in this market area. Currently, Helsinki Airport is the most important hub in Europe measured by routes to and from Japan.
In spring, transit travel volumes increased by 19 per cent at Helsinki Airport, and we expect this growth to continue. When you are going fast, there sure is no lack of action: we signed an agreement with the first Chinese airline on a route between China and Finland. Next year, Helsinki Airport will offer routes to eight cities in Mainland China, plus Hong Kong. A whopping 27 long-distance routes will be offered next year.
The best air traffic hub in the Nordic
Norwegian is another grower. This year, it opened three new routes from Helsinki Airport and increased its operations, for example, to Copenhagen and Oslo. Measured by the number of flights and the range of routes, Helsinki Airport is now the best network hub in Northern Europe – ahead of Copenhagen, Arlanda and Oslo. New airline customers established during the past 12 months, such as Qatar Airways, Blue Air, Transavia and Croatia Airlines, have strengthened the profitability of Helsinki Airport.
At the same time, Finland and Lapland, in particular, have become attractive destinations in the international travel markets. The Nordic is witnessing a special snowball effect. Lufthansa launched direct international flights to Lapland in 2015. It was then followed by Norwegian, Germania and Monarch. New launches are expected in the upcoming winter season, such as Finnair's direct flights from different parts of Europe. The snow, northern lights and huskies also attract people from Asia, via Helsinki Airport.
Alongside this route development, we are also expanding Helsinki Airport. We have an ongoing development programme of EUR 900 million aimed at 2020. We are preparing to serve 30 million passengers a year in the future. The customer experience also pays a major part: for your short stay at the airport, we want you to feel like at home.
This text was first published in Window Seat magazine 7/2017.